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Why Football Is More Popular Than Baseball, Basketball, and Hockey Combined

A published author who writes articles on a variety of topics including sports and philosophy.

Football vs other sports: Which is most popular?

Football vs other sports: Which is most popular?

Why is football considered the most popular sport in the country ahead of America’s pastime, baseball? Everyone knows Americans love seeing a good fight, so why is hockey on the bottom rung of team-sport popularity? Basketball features more continuous action than any other sport, but still pales in comparison to the interest generated by football.

To sum up the reason in one statement, it all boils down to the old adage: less is more. Pro basketball, baseball, and hockey all schedule way too many games, baseball topping the list at a whopping 162 per team per season! This over-scheduling waters down the sport and generates little meaning for each individual game. Most people have a hard time following 17 games in one season, let alone 10 times that number. This leaves no room for hype or buildup between each one like there is every week with football, and the only bragging rights a team or fan can hang their hat on with baseball are during playoffs and the World Series. Not only are Saturday and Sunday the best days of the week, but during autumn, each weekend resembles a mini-holiday for both college and pro football fans.


Major League Baseball (MLB)

Baseball’s origins are debatable. Similar games, like cricket and rounders, were primitive folk games invented in England as early as the seventeenth century. During the 1700s, American colonies invented a unique version called “town ball.” In 1845, Alexander Cartwright altered the rules of town ball in New York City, and baseball was born. He organized the first official baseball team, called the Knickerbocker Baseball Club. The first organized game was played in Hoboken, New Jersey the following year. Rules were somewhat different but, for the most part, remained the same game played today. Cartwright later earned the title, “The Father of Organized Baseball.”

MLB was founded in 1869. Its components were formed later, the National League in 1876 and American League in 1901. They were both separate leagues until 2000, when they finally merged. The first World Series between these two leagues was played in 1903, pitting the Boston Americans against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Baseball seasons start in early April and last until the beginning of November. That’s seven solid months, a lot of which is spent in the scorching heat. In that time, teams play a ridiculous amount of 162 games.

Baseball has always featured a plethora of games and started playing over 100 as early as 1883. These days, there are too many options and too many alternative interests for most fans to follow even a fraction of that, in particular since most Americans take their vacation during the summer. Baseball has become sports on steroids (pardon the pun), and one could find little difficulty feeling sorry for the wife of a typical, avid fan.

When a sport features that many games, each one fails to hold the same importance or significance as it does in football. Too much of a good thing can lessen its significance. For example, if Christmas was six days a week, seven months out of the year, it could never harbor the same special feeling it generates with just one month.

Baseball’s popularity has declined steadily over the past 40 years, and football has taken its place as America’s “current-time.” While baseball remains popular and includes a large following with highly dedicated fans, it pales in comparison to football. Many argue the pace is too slow and boring, and that it lacks enough action. Scoring is also sparse when compared to football. The attention span of Americans is very short these days. We need constant action and stimulation, and baseball fails to deliver in that department.


National Basketball Association (NBA)

Basketball is a fairly new sport that wasn’t established as a game until 1891 by Canadian-born, physical-education instructor James Naismith. He became a US citizen in 1925 and was the Kansas Jayhawk’s athletic director. As a side note, Naismith is credited with inventing the first football helmet.

The Basketball Association of America was founded in 1946 in New York City as the first official basketball league. The BAA absorbed the NBL in 1949, and the NBA was thus born.

A typical NBA season now features 82 games per team, running from early November until mid-June if you include playoffs. This is another example of too large a season and too many games to hold the average sports fan’s attention. One exception to the sport is college basketball. Teams play, on average, 30 to 40 games per season, which includes any potential tournament games. That’s still less than half those played by the NBA, which makes each game more significant, each a must-see. In addition, there is pageantry coupled with following a college program, not to mention March Madness as one of the best playoff systems ever implemented for any sport.

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National Hockey League (NHL)

There are many examples of games like hockey and field hockey dating back as far as 4,000 years ago in Egypt. Most agree ice hockey was invented by British soldiers based in Canada during the 1850s. The first recorded, organized hockey game was played in 1875 in Montreal, Canada. The first game played in the US was in 1893 between Yale and John Hopkins universities. It phased out ice polo, and the US Amateur Hockey League was founded in New York City the same year. However, we can all agree hockey is, by far, a Canadian sport.

The NHA (National Hockey Association) was first established in Montreal in 1910. They later reorganized in 1917 as the National Hockey League and expanded into the United States by 1924.

A typical hockey season features 82 games played by each team. As with the NBA and MLB, the NHL plays far too many games. Its popularity in the US has declined so much that most networks no longer feature any games. Hockey gained popularity during the 1990s, but that quickly changed during the next decade. Some argue ESPN’s dwindling coverage of the sport had a hand in its declining popularity in the US, but others cite their lack of coverage is based on Nielson ratings and overall loss of interest in the sport. While it is fast-paced, includes plenty of action, and features many fistfights, the infrequent scoring leaves a lot to be desired. Any game that can end in a 1-0 score will not turn very many heads here in America. It is understandable, though, why many Canadians still relish the sport.


Major League Soccer (MLS)

Also referred to as football, the origins of soccer can be traced back to the second or third centuries BCE (Before Common Era) in China. Evidence suggests the early Romans and Greeks also enjoyed the sport. The modern era of soccer began in England during the 1800s, and in 1904, FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association) was created, which is the worldwide soccer organization that features the World Cup. The United States and Canada formed a professional soccer league of their own in 1996 with the inception of the MLB. It first consisted of only 10 teams, and MLB now features a total of 19.

Soccer, or football as it is known in most countries, is considered the most popular sport in the world. Nationals true to their team can be downright violent, provoking fights during rival games in the stadiums and sometimes evoking fatalities. People who think American football fans are violent should take a closer look at soccer fans.

Similar to hockey, a soccer game can end in a 0-0 tie, which is something that occurs quite often. While a fan of the sport will argue this is inconsequential to the “excitement” of the game, any game ending in a 0-0 tie would put most Americans to sleep. Though teams play only 34 games in a single season, the thrill and mechanics of the sport leave a lot to be desired, in particular when compared to American football or basketball.


National Football League (NFL)

Since football emerged from rugby and other similar sports of the 1800s, the first, official American football game was played in 1869 between Rutgers and Princeton. Professional football can be traced back to 1892, and the NFL formed out of the American Professional Football Association in 1922. The AFL, or American Football League, was a rival organization to the NFL, created in 1960. Super Bowl I was played following the 1966 season, pitting the NFL champion against the AFL’s. In 1970, they agreed to merge as one league and divided themselves between the NFC (National Football Conference) and AFC (American Football Conference) divisions, which is what we still have today.

One might wonder why football adopted the same name as soccer since handball would have been a more appropriate name for the sport. Before the forward pass was permissible, handing the ball off to a running back occurred more often than a punt, kickoff, or field goal. If it had not already been taken, we would be calling the sport handball, not football.

A typical pro football season features a priceless 16 games per team from September through December. That means each and every game is relevant and has more significance than in any other sport. Each game fits nicely with our weekly calendar, and the hype is built up during the workweek. These games take place during our most cherished holidays and family gatherings, a perfect “seasonal” combination. Playoffs are featured during the month of January, culminating in a Super-Bowl grand finale in early February.

The Super Bowl is the most-watched sporting event in the entire world, and advertisers know it. A typical, thirty-second commercial spot is now up to $3.5 million and rising. The game is like a major holiday here in the US and bigger than any other sport’s finale throughout the world.


Will Football Reign Supreme?

It’s hard to argue with the numbers. To deny pro football is America’s most popular sport is nothing short of blind ignorance. Regardless of how passionate you might be for your own favorite sport, the overwhelming majority of fans have spoken, and the NFL’s popularity continues to rise. Nobody can deny football is boss, especially since the college version of the sport is on par with MLB’s popularity. Over time, college football will replace pro baseball as the second most popular sport in America, and football will reign supreme. It’s only a matter of time.

In the end, what we choose and how we feel about our favorite sport is a personal one. You may have been brought up in an environment that considers volleyball the best sport, and it may generate more emotion and intrigue for you than any other. While a belief can be unrealistic, the feeling remains. It’s only a problem when you attempt to argue your sport is better or more popular than football. That’s when it becomes delusional.


Fred on February 14, 2020:

i like more than one

Lol football is the best game ever but this game was made in 1993 on October 04, 2019:

Lol football is the best game ever but this game was made in 1992

the on December 03, 2018:

lol football is better than baskeball

hi on February 01, 2017:

football= Lyfe

Hi on January 04, 2017:

Football is the beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeest

Abulabulu on January 25, 2016:

Football is the best best best sport

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on March 27, 2014:

On the soccer issue, it's about perspective, really. I once watched a whole soccer game, 0-0 tie. Dullest thing in the world to me, but it's the most popular sport in the world. You take someone who has never seen a baseball game to a great pitchers' duel, and they may well feel the same way. It's about what you grow up with, that which is familiar. I guess what I'm trying to say is, I will never be a soccer fan, but if I had grew up around it, I might would've been.

zombiekiller on November 05, 2013:

football is the best sport in the world well soccer is but i think football is because in soccer use ur feet and not ur hand in football u can use both. in basketball u have to bounce the ball and if u kick the ball it's a foul. and don't get me started with hocky.

nihja on September 10, 2013:

football is the best sport is the u.s

Roscoe Wallace from Georgia on August 15, 2013:

I prefer football. And college football to be specific. I do enjoy watching the pro version, but I have no real passion for it.

I get very into college football. I root for the University of Georgia. When I was younger, I was a bit more passionate about pro football, but now, the main thing I do is follow how the former Bulldogs are doing in the pros.

I don't watch basketball, unless it's an occasional UGA game.

I certainly don't pay any attention to pro basketball.

I don't watch pro baseball anymore. Their last strike was enough to turn me off for good, it seems.

So, once the national championship game is played in January, it's a long off season for me, though I do keep up with recruiting and spring practice and fall practice.

Bill Sego (author) from Logan, Ohio on June 24, 2013:

Yes it sure is. Personally, I'm a college football guy and have been an Ohio State fan since I could walk. Only a month til preseason!

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on June 24, 2013:

LOVE NFL football! I'm already counting the days 'til pre-season.

I love football, particularly NFL, because it is run as a business... a well oiled marketing and entertainment machine.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on June 22, 2013:

I played them all, enjoyed them all. I am not a fan of any of the sports. I watch and analyze and enjoy strategy. We wear our home team jerseys and support our community through our local sports teams.

I think in team sports I enjoyed coaching ladies softball the best but little guy soccer was close.

I must say, up to my college scholarship I liked football the most. I was a smashmouth hurt 'em kind of player. So I think I like watching the line in football the most.

Football is the closest to war. I think Sun Yat Siu would appreciate it.

EJ Lambert from Chicago, IL on June 22, 2013:

Football dominates baseball and basketball because they have the singular audacity to do what the others won't: institute a hard salary cap. Basically they're saying to every team "this is how much money you're allowed to spend. So spent it wisely." That prevents players from taking advantage of the system i.e. LeBron James and Co. to set up shop in one place. It doesn't work that way in football.

Hockey has the hard cap but after so many years of lockouts and/or strikes they've pissed away a lot of their chances at building a serious fanbase in the U.S. In those intervening moments the NFL has taken advantage. Another aspect of it is pacing of the game. With the other three sports it is all about ebbe and flow, making runs and not really a definitive strategy to them other than game planning and running certain plays in certain situations.

In football it is a chess match. The players execute on the field but it is also a test of wits between coaches. That kind of layered competition, pitting one play call against another, makes football a "deeper" game. On top of that, it's one game a week. In the frantic pace of modern culture it become difficult to follow 82 games per season and a seven-game series. Meanwhile NFL teams play 16 regular season games and no more than four in the playoff, once a week. Easy to follow and easy to cheer for.

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